Living On a Diet of Steel

Out of all the sideshow acts that exist, I consider sword swallowing to be one of of the deadliest, as there is certainly a great risk taken every time that steel blade enters the body. The practice dates back thousands of years to origins in India, where Fakirs and Shaman priests used it as a demonstration of their power to be invulnerable, and a means connection to their gods. There is a great hall of fame list that has more details of this ancient art, which I am sure some might find to be quite surprising. People constantly ask me exactly what inspired me to want to learn how to do this, so I thought that I would take the opportunity to finally divulge that information.

The first time I ever saw someone down a sword was at Coney Island, and of course I was instantly intrigued. While I could wrap my head around most of the other acts, there was something undeniably sensual about sword swallowing. Understanding that there was no trick to the feat, my curiosity of how one was able to accomplish it grew each time I returned to Sideshows By the Seashore and watched Tyler Fyre stick that blade into his throat.  In 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Coney Island Sideshow School and finally learn the secret behind sword swallowing, which I am not going to share. What I will say, however, is that practicing with a wire coat hanger was one of the most unpleasant things I have experienced, but I was certainly determined to emulate the act that had caught my attention.

There are a few gag reflexes one must over come in order to safely pass an object into the throat, down the esophagus, where it will rest somewhere in the depths of the stomach. Doing this right results in an overwhelming amount of applause from an audience. Doing this wrong can [and has] lead to serious injury, or even death. This is due to the fact that the object is passing several vital organs, including the heart and lungs. Suffice to say that ones life is literally on the line each time the act is performed. It took about a month of practice with the wire coat hanger to get it all the way into my stomach, and I must say that it was certainly a proud moment.

However, I could not legitimately call myself a sword swallower and present the act with this crude implement. So it was that I abandoned the practice, though I did purchase a sword in 2005 at an indoor flea market in New Jersey. A fellow performer suggested that I make some changes to it in order for it to be presentable on stage. For whatever reason, I was slightly nervous about actually making an attempt to swallow the sword, and so it sat in storage for a couple more years. The motivation to return to practice came from continuing to watch others flawlessly perform the act, because I knew I had the ability to do the same if I tried hard enough.

Swallowing 18 1/2 inches of solid steel in the wasteland of West Philly.

In 2006, while living in West Philadelphia, I was struck with the inspiration to attempt swallowing the sword. At that time I was friends with Barry Silver [notable master magician and fellow sideshow performer] who had learned several skills from the legendary Red Stuart. It was with their assistance that I worked up the courage to finally stick that sword in my throat. After about half an hour of practice, for the first time ever, I felt the steel blade slip down into my stomach. That swell of pride returned, only this time, I had truly become a sword swallower. Barry was the first person I called to share the good news with, and I wound up replicating the feat for him and a few other friends later that day.

Four years later, and I am still happily performing the act for a wide variety of audiences. Much inspiration has been drawn from Red Stuart, who is the world’s oldest living sword swallower, and also holds several Guinness Book World Records. It is said that he has swallowed over 50 sword simultaneously, and I have personally seen him down broad swords and even a Ford model A car axle at the Palace of Wonders. Truly he deserves much recognition, and I can only hope to achieve even a fraction of his greatness.

Photo courtesy of http://www.swordswallow.com

While researching sword swallowing history, I cam across this most amazing woman, Edith Clifford. She began performing the act at the tender age of thirteen, and became famous for swallowing razor blades, scissors, saw blades and bayonets. Personally, I would also like to note that she has held the record for most swords swallowed by a female for over one hundred years. That number is 24, and as far as I know, the current record is only half that amount. While this is certainly impressive in its own right, there is a great urge I have to not only duplicate her effort, but hopefully even surpass it. Presently, I have succeeded in swallowing three swords at once, which was first accomplished on stage at the Troccadero Theater in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, I was a bit nervous about doing this for the first time, so Red Stuart easily swallowed the stack to give me motivation.

The very dangerous triple blade sandwich. Slipper Room, NYC [2007] 

That was also the same evening I shared the stage with Red Stuart and a few other sword swallowers to participate in a group swallow. In other words, we all stood in a line and swallowed our swords in simultaneous fashion. While I have only been a part of two group swallows, I must say that it was quite an honor to be on stage with performers I had the utmost respect for as we all slid solid steel into our stomachs.

Group swallow at Palace of Wonders, Washington D.C. [2007] Photo: David Schmidt

Over the past four years, I have added a few other objects to the routine. Currently, I swallow a stainless steel wire coat hanger, 15 inch cane sword, 18 inch 8-sided sai and the 18 1/2 sword, though it is without a proper handle. It actually fell off during a performance, at which point I picked it up, explained to the audience that they could not think the blade retracted into the handle, then continued with the act. There are certainly plans to find even more objects that I can swallow, though I am keeping such thoughts to myself.

In recognition of my accomplishment as a sword swallower, I decided to get a tattoo that would very obviously state my profession. This was something that did not take much thought, as I had wanted to celebrate my 26th birthday with a new piece of ink anyway. The design was partially inspired by one of my own swords, and I took a long train ride up to New Jersey just to obtain the piece. While I was definitely slightly nervous, most of that feeling subsided the moment that stencil was placed on my neck. About an hour or so later, I looked at the permanent artwork and smiled. Two after acquiring the tattoo, I performed at a New Year’s Eve event at a warehouse in Brooklyn, even though my neck was slightly stiff.

The very appropriate tattoo to honor my profession. Artist: Kevin Craig

The highlight of my somewhat short career as a sword swallower came in January of 2009, when I met Thomas Blackthorne. He is most well known for swallowing a jackhammer, and also holds several Guinness Book titles. It just so happened that he was passing through town with a sword that he had made, in an attempt to get as many people as possible to swallow it. Barry Silver and myself accompanied him to the steps of the Art Museum, where we were photographed and videotaped downing that very cold steel blade. The best comparison I can give, is if one were to accidentally swallow a whole ice pop. However, I must say that it was the finest sword I have ever had the pleasure of sliding into my stomach. A few months ago, I learned that the record was officially recognized, with my name being recorded in the book for posterity, and literally is engraved into that steel sword.

There are approximately 100 people world wide who can swallow a sword, and only a handful of those are women. While I am not the youngest, tallest or can swallow the most, I am still very proud of my unusual ability. It is definitely my favorite act to perform, and it never ceases to get a reaction from the audience. My main goal is to continue sharing it with as many people as possible, teaching a bit of history along the way, and some day setting a new record. As it has been said many times in this business, certainly this is a hard way to make an easy living, but I would not trade the experience for anything in the world.

For more information about sword swallowing, please visit the following sites:

Sword Swallowing To The Hilt

Sword Swallowers Association International

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